Coke Studio at MTV Season 2 Episode 4: Review

The way Coke Studio at MTV ended last episode, things have looked generally upbeat for the show. All the more reason to wait and see where it goes from here. And the fact that the show was being produced by the internationally acclaimed composer-producer Nitin Sawhney only fueled the anticipation. Had to wait until some time back to listen to the songs however, having had a busy weekend, and below is what I thought of them.

For the first time this season, the show featured two songs that were not originally composed for Coke Studio – the first one was Nadia. Nadia. The first Nitin Sawhney song  I ever heard. The impeccable singing by Swati Natekar (for a long time I used to think it was Reena Bharadwaj), the staccato-ed use of the techno-based percussion, and the innate charm of the original Bade Ghulam Ali thumri, it was instant love! And even on the show it started off well – the composer doing away with all the techno elements, and adding the kasthoori thilakam shloka as a prelude, which Nicki Wells rendered quite neatly with a surprisingly near-perfect accent. But once the actual song begins, things take a turn for the worse. Nicki is no doubt adept at singing classical, but in this case she falls much short of the finesse in Swati’s original. The rest of the arrangement sounded pretty much the same, except for Ashwin Srinivasan‘s (who doubles=d up as backing vocalist) flute additions, and the electronic bass sound being replaced by Mohini Dey‘s bass guitar (which she employed brilliantly, this girl is quite a talent). But the lynchpin of the song was the singing, and since that didn’t work, the rest didn’t matter much either.

Sunset – the second cover of the night. Here too the techno elements have been done away with, and the Bengali verse opens the song instead of just appearing in the interlude. Singing the English portions Nicki sounds totally in her zone, and Ashwin and Samidhi Joglekar do equally well with their harmonies (the flute bit was a nice touch). The Bengali portions still sound grating, guess I won’t get quite used to Nicki singing classical; but the last one minute of the song is nicely done.

The composer brought in ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram’s son Mahesh Vinayakram to sing Vachan (darbari raga-based?) and this one too starts off quite interestingly, a konnakol by the entire team seguing into the electric guitar and so on. The lines are apparently by Nitin’s mother Saroj Sawhney, but the lines (sung by Nicki and Samidha) pretty much got lost in Mahesh’s sonorous (and at times strained, it seems) sargams. Good song, but with its follies, not something I would call memorable.

Longing is where the composer really gets into his elements giving us a truly imaginative piece that gets better as it goes, from alternating scales to superb harmonies to a fabulous flute section by Ashwin. I would have preferred Samidha to close the song, but that is something that can be overlooked given the brilliance of the composition; this is signature Nitin Sawhney!

The feeling of hope that Saroj Sawhney tries to express through her lines in Saahil Tak is done complete justice by her son on the show with a soothing classical-pop mix. Papon and Samidha are flawless in their rendition, and Ashwin joins them with his flute in the latter half to add to the feel fabulously! Particularly loved Samidha’s “sunaakar.. sunaa do” portions.

The melancholy of Sindhu Bhairavi raga (I think) and flamenco guitar. Tere Khayal in fact gave me memories of the song Gipsy Trail from Global Fusion where L Subramaniam had employed a similar combo with Jorge Strunz (of Strunz and Farah) on Spanish guitar and Kavita Krishnamurti on vocals. Not talking of plagiarism by the way, just to clarify! In any case, while Gipsy Trail was almost entirely the instrumentalists’ show, here it is Prasad Khaparde who owns the song with his wonderful alaaps and all. Of course there is Ashwin’s flute playing a sublime support role layered over Nitin’s flamenco hook, but with the man’s singing it is easy to forget the rest.

An episode that picks up in the second half after a tepid start. But being a Nitin Sawhney episode, I was all set for a 6/6, so disappointed that way. Nevertheless, happy that now more people will know of artists like Nitin Sawhney and Ashwin Srinivasan, they truly deserve to be known better.

PS: Excuses for not explicitly mentioning the drummer Jivraj Singh and tablist Vikaash Sankadecha, they were quite commendable in their parts.

Top Recos: Longing, Saahil Tak, Tere Khayal

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